Tuesday, December 4, 2012

DVD Extras: Deleted Scenes

At this moment, I should be about 6 hrs from landing in Chicago. I was going through all of my photos and ran across a few that I don't think ever actually made it into the blog. If you've seen some before, I'm sorry, but I think most of them are new. Enjoy!

This lovely statue was in the lobby of the hotel we stayed at in Luxor as soon as we arrived. It's supposed to be Tut, we think, but whomever it is, he's about to shoot his horse in the back.
We could see this from our roof. Someone in a very pink house hung their teddy bears out to dry.
That big cabinet in our room in Edfu was seriously big enough that I could stand almost completely upright in the bottom, and 2 more people could have stood next to me. And that was only half of the thing!
During our walk on the gebel, Aaron and Jonathan provide the entertainment.
Inside one of the chapels at the Ptolemaic temple in Deir el-Medina.
Our reis, Eslam, also enjoyed our jack-o-lantern.
Some tourists enjoying my block yard! It's a funny angle, since I'm sitting drawing pottery on the other side of the japoozi. I thought it might be odd if I just ran over and took their picture.
At the mosque of Ibn Tulun.

One of the sarcophagi in the Serapeum. See how it's set lower in the ground than the main walking area?

Me walking towards the Bent Pyramid.
An image of the Virgin Mary on the Holy Family Church in Coptic Cairo. Much like the ones of St. George that I posted earlier, I'm pretty sure this one lights up at night. Nothing says, "Come worship in this lovely old Coptic church" quite like a light-up Virgin Mary sign.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Our Last Day In Cairo

Today is our last day in Cairo! It’ll be a LONG day: 37 hrs from when we wake up until we land in Chicago, plus another 9ish hrs before we should allow ourselves to go to bed. I slept pretty terribly last night, but hopefully that means I’ll be able to nap this afternoon or sleep on the plane. We’ll see.

Since it’s our last day, we’re not doing much other than packing. So I’ll tell you about a few things that didn’t really fit into other posts.

Last night we went to a place called “Wings In Flavors”. It wasn’t bad, though we didn’t try any of the wings. It was a nice place not too far from our hotel, but as we were paying, I looked over to the littler rock garden that they’ve got set up in front of the window and saw a little mouse. He was very cute and we didn’t want them to hurt him, so we didn’t say anything. He was on the 2nd floor and the kitchen was on the 1st, so I’m going to not think about this logically and pretend he was the only one in the building. The restaurant also had a really awesome bathroom sign.

After dinner we went to Mandarine. I think I’ve talked about this place before, but they specialize in Egyptian desserts (though they also have some really good gelato-like stuff). We loaded up on basboosa and kunaffa and ate them while watching Arab music videos. I’ve got to say, I liked the stuff our guys made better, but it was still pretty good.

Our of our favorite things about living in Zamalek, especially after Edfu, is that even though there are a TON of stray animals, they are all pretty well taken care of (there’s trash everywhere for them to eat, and you’ll often see little dishes of food and water outside of businesses). One of the dogs that actually has an owner lives just down the street from our hotel and we pass him almost every time we leave. He’s a small dog, but thinks he’s a big one. He loves playing with the giant yellow lab that lives next door (and has about 50 lbs on him). He barked up a storm at us at first, but then we petted him and now his tail wags every time he sees us. We’re pretty sure the owner was trying to tell us his name is Zooko, but I heard it as “Bazooka” and the name has stuck.

Aside from all the little stands on the streets where you can buy water and snacks, there are two other stands you can run across while on the street: roasted corn and roasted sweet potatoes. I’ve been wanting to try a sweet potato, but every time we see one, we’ve just eaten and I’m really full. However, I did get to eat at the corn cart! The cart is full of uncooked corn; in the back, there’s a small coal grill where the operator cooks the corn. The weird part is that it’s not sweet corn. It’s basically popcorn corn, but before it’s dried. So the corn is really chewy and tastes basically like uncooked popcorn. It wasn’t bad, just very, very weird. 

Sorry it's so dark, it was late at night. In the background is the mall-like center that has the $2.50 store.
At midnight (so about 4pm CST), we'll grab a cab to the airport. Then it's a 4.5 hr flight to Frankfurt, a 3hr 45min layover, and then a 9.5 hr flight to Chicago. If all goes well, I'll be in line for customs around 1pm Chicago-time on Dec 4. Here's hoping it's a short line and no one wants to look in my bags.

Thank you all for reading! If you come back tomorrow, I'll throw up some pictures that never quite made it into the blog. Hope you enjoyed reading about my adventure (even when it was boring) and I'll see you next year! Per request (I heard ya, Julie), I'll try to put some posts up about my conference(s) in the upcoming months, so keep an eye on Facebook in March (and if all goes well, ARCE in April, but fingers are crossed on that one).

As Tasha said, "ma salama, Egypt; hello, USofA!"

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Spending Sunday In Church

Well, those of you who are my facebook friends will know the realization Dan helped me come to this morning; we have one fewer day in Cairo than we thought! Lindsey and I were convinced that our plane left at 3am on Wed. Turns out, it leaves at 3am on Tuesday! Neither one of us is too upset by this, but it was a bit of a shock to learn that we almost missed our flight because we're stupid (good thing my better half is keeping track of me, even when I'm halfway around the world). Don't worry, we've already rearranged our restaurant schedule to make sure we get in everything we wanted to try.

Anyway, after the shock, we grabbed some lunch from a very good place that makes bagel sandwiches, then we headed out to Coptic Cairo. Neither of us had been there before and it was recommended to us by a few of our lovely team members, so we decided to try it. I am SO glad we did!

The sector is enclosed and you have to go down from street level to get there. We weren't totally sure where we were going, but Lindsey wisely decided we should "follow the white people," figuring that the tour groups knew what they were doing. And she was correct.

When you first walk in, you pass through the bazar area, which made me feel like I was on a nearly-deserted set of an Indiana Jone's movie.

The first church we went into was the Holy Family Church, a Coptic Orthodox church that was absolutely gorgeous! They wouldn't let us take pictures inside, but it looked a lot like the second church we went into (whose name I forget):

Sorry for the fuzziness- I didn't want to use flash while people were worshiping.
 The Holy Family Church even had volunteer guides, so we had a very lovely young lady walk us around the church and tell us all about it for free (even her name tag said we couldn't give her money). She told us about all the symbolism and showed us all the super intricately carved woodwork. She also showed us the entrance to the crypt, which isn't open to tourists because of water damage. Apparently, this church is attested in 7 different documents as being the church where the holy family spent several days while in Egypt (hence the name). I lit a candle for our safe return.

We went into 2 other churches in the Coptic area, as well as a synagogue (a little odd seeing the Jewish iconography after all the Christian). Again, no pictures were allowed. We also got to see this church from the outside, but couldn't figure out how to get inside:

That's St. George killing a dragon. That has to be a story in a gnostic text, cause I'm pretty sure I'd remember a dragon in the Bible. 
We also visited the Greek Orthodox church of St. George. Only the chapels were open, but it was still pretty neat. They are doing some massive construction work on the outside:

After the churches, we went back out of the Coptic area and headed next door to the Coptic museum, which still has remnants of the Fort of Babylon out front:

Ft. of Babylon on the right, Coptic Museum straight ahead.
Another view of the remnants of the fort.
I wish I could have taken pictures from the inside of the museum because the SCA has done a brilliant job! I love a museum where looking at the building itself is as interesting as the objects. My only wish was that they would have told us more about the building, because it was truly stunning: wood carvings in every ceiling, a beautiful marble staircase, and 2 open courtyards. The museum is quite large and covers two floors and they have everything from old liturgical vestments, to Coptic texts, to paintings from old monasteries throughout Egypt. Everything is labeled in English, French, and Arabic and a lot of the stuff is showcased in humidity-controlled casing. We enjoyed the museum very much and would recommend both it and Coptic Cairo to anyway with a few hours to kill in Cairo.

Tonight we're planning to hit Wings in Flavors for dinner, followed by a last run to get Egyptian desserts. We had planned to do Giza tomorrow, but I think both of us are pretty tired of running around Cairo and just want to hit the supermarket for last-minute snacks and plastic bags, then spend the day packing and reading.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Cupcake Showdown!

As I mentioned, Tasha has already headed back to the US. We bade goodbye to her before we went to bed and she caught a cab to the airport around midnight. When we bought our tickets, we thought we’d want lots of time to take a day trip to Alexandria, and spend a day in the Cairo museum, etc. But with the political turmoil, a lot of our plans got cancelled, meaning we don’t have much to do other than sit in our hotel room and explore Zamalek... again. In our running around, we’d noticed that since we’d been here last, there has been a surge in cupcake shops. You may have noticed that I commented about this earlier. Well, what do you do when you’re sick of reading, there’s not much to see on the island, and leaving (especially on a weekend day) is not the best plan? Why, rank cupcake shops, of course!*

The contenders:

CRUMBS: Located somewhere near Cilantro and Alfa Market

What we’ve had: Date and Caramel, Raspberry White Chocolate, Chocolate Mint, and Red Velvet

Typical Cost: 10 LE ($1.67)

Tasha knew about this place, which is how we found it even though it’s not really on our typical route to and from places. The shop is very nice and there’s even a little table for kids. They have a normal selection of cupcakes, though several of them are flavor mixes you wouldn’t see much in the US. They seem much less professional than the other two places, as the icing amount isn’t what you’d expect from a professional shop and the decoration are minimal. Their cakes are very moist and their icing isn’t overly sweet, which is nice, but of the 4 cupcakes we’ve collectively tried, only one was actually enjoyed. Ones I’ve had: Date and Caramel- I actually enjoyed this one, though there was neither much date nor much caramel in it. The cake was more of a dense spice-like or carrot-like cake, with a thin cream cheese frosting and 2 small pieces of date on top. Not much to complain about. Chocolate Mint- My complaints were saved for this cake. The chocolate cake was just kind of meh, and the mint icing tasted like bad children’s toothpaste. Lindsey said her Red Velvet was the worst she’d ever had.

LA POIRE: on 26th July Street

I forgot to take a photo when we were out front, so I had to do it from across the street. Sorry for the blurriness, but I wasn't crossing 26th July Street again!

What we’ve had: Chocolate Caramel, Chocolate Chocolate, Cookies and Cream, Hot Fudge Sundae

Typical Cost: 10 LE ($1.67)

We actually ran across this place by mistake out in Ma’adi. Lindsey needed to use the bathroom and public toilets are kind of unheard of. We found this bakery that seemed to have a bathroom, so we stopped in, grabbed cupcakes, and she used the bathroom. When we got back to Zamalek, we realized there was another one on 26th July near our access street, so it got added to today’s rotation. Their cakes are a lot denser than either Crumbs or Nola, which I actually like quite a bit. However, they refrigerate them to keep them good, and that dries them out much more than the other places. They don’t have a very big selection, nor do they label their cupcakes, but since they are more of a bakery than a cupcake shop, I suppose it’s understandable. You shouldn’t go there if you are looking for variety in cupcakes, nor ones that are easily identifiable by their decorations. However, their icing sweetness is perfectly balanced with the sweetness in the cake, and there’s a lot of icing. Unlike Nola, they only put things in the cake batter for certain cakes (like cookies and cream), so the cakes aren’t that exciting, but they have really good flavor and texture. Ones I’ve had: Chocolate Caramel- Basically a Twix cupcake (there was even a Twix on top), the caramel icing was super good on top of the chocolate cake. Hot Fudge Sundae- I’m just calling it that since it had a chocolate cake base, vanilla icing, a bit of coconut, sprinkles, and a chocolate ball on top. Again, really good mix of sweet and dense chocolate. The amount of icing they put on and the size of the cake does make it incredibly difficult to eat cake and icing together in one bite, though.

NOLA: on Brazil St, just off 26th July 

What we’ve had: Banana Caramel, Cookies and Cream, Blueberry, Raspberry, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

Typical Cost: 14 LE ($2.30)

We found this shop first (Lindsey spotted it on the way to the hotel late that first night), so we’ve had more of their selection. And they do have a very large selection. Unlike La Poire, they only do cupcakes, but their selection is much larger and the decoration much fancier than Crumbs. Their cakes are extremely moist, almost too much so for me. Their icing is not very sweet, which is a nice change of pace from the US. All the cakes we tried had pieces of things in the dough: cookies, fruit, chocolate chips, etc., so their cakes were good even without the icing. When we went in today, they even had some that were meticulously decorated for Christmas, which was very cute. Of the ones mentioned, I’ve had: banana caramel- the cake was a basic banana cake with large chunks of banana. It was very tasty, but the cream cheese frosting was way too sweet for the cake in the quantity it had. Raspberry- this one was good and had real raspberries in and on it. My only critique would be that it was kind of bland with a yellow cake and vanilla frosting, so changing it to a chocolate cake would make it delicious. Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough- Both Lindsey and I have tried this one. While she was really happy with it, I thought it sorely lacked some sweetness. The addition of cookie dough on and in the cake helped, but it didn’t have the same sweet flavor that cookie dough typically has in desserts like ice cream.

They all had cute little single-serving boxes.

Our cupcakes! Lindsey's on the top row (Red Velvet, Chocolate Chocolate, Cookies and Cream), mine on the bottom (Mint Chocolate, Chocolate Caramel, Banana Caramel). 

The results: After much careful consideration and tasting (for science!), Lindsey and I decided the winners (though hers differ a bit from mine). We both agree that Crumbs will not be frequented again. I would put Nola as my second favorite; while they had a great selection and great flavors, I many times found the sweetness I crave in a cupcake lacking and the price almost 50% more than the others. For me, the winner is La Poire. Their cakes were nicely balanced, dense, and at a good price. If you want to impress an office party, grab some Nolas, but if you just want a cupcake, La Poire is where it’s at.

Now that the important scientific work is done, we’ll probably spend the rest of the day in the hotel recuperating. Not that we’re big fans of the hotel: we had no hot water for about 12 hours a few days ago, no water at all for about 2 hours this morning, the ceiling in the hallway has been leaking something brown for several days, we never get toilet paper replaced, the toilet can’t be flushed a second time for a good 15 mins after the first flushing (suuuuuuper fun when there’s 3 people), the TV is plugged into a very finicky outlet that shocks you when you try to get it to work, and the elevators want to kill us (one has no inner doors, so you can see the walls of the elevator shaft as it moves up and down...). So while we were happy with the place the first night, it’s slowly getting worse, to the point where we kind of wish we were back in our place in Edfu (yeah, so you KNOW it’s not good). People have been saying that this is a recent development, but to be honest, I don't wish to stay here again and find out if it's an anomaly. Nine days is a long time to spend in a sub-par hotel when we just want to go home and are rapidly running out of things to do and places to eat.

*For all of your reminding me that I was so proud of losing weight, I know! But we had a lunch of only fruit, so fruit plus 3 cupcakes can’t be that much worse than the sandwich shops, which cover everything in mayo and only offer sides of fries.